Posted by Kirsten Gibbs Last updated 25th November 2021 reading time
I’ve always hated being under an obligation to anyone. I’d much rather be a giver than a receiver, and I always used to try and ‘balance the books’ whenever someone did me a favour, or gave me something. I’d even refuse help when it was offered.
Because I liked my ‘independence’. I wanted to be able to do whatever I choose, without having to consider others. I wanted to be free of responsibilities, I hated to feel ‘tied down’.
Balancing the books is a finite game. It assumes scarcity, that when I give, I lose, and that therefore you owe me in return. And that means that you have a debt hanging over you, that one day will have to be repaid. Effectively I have a kind of power over you, that can only be dissipated through a return gift. You are no longer autonomous or fully independent.
A long time ago, a schoolfriend’s dad told me “One has to learn to receive graciously, as well as to give.” I didn’t understand him then, but I do now.
We don’t have to play finite games with each other. They can be infinite. I can give without expectation of return. I can receive without ceding my autonomy. Because somewhere, at some time, others are doing the same, keeping the game going for everyone. That’s true generosity.
Of course some people will always play as if the game was finite, and when their worldview dominates, as has been the case for the last few hundred years, we end up in trouble. It might even be the end of us.
The solution is in all of our hands. We can simply choose not to play their game.
“The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make and could just as easily make differently.” David Graeber.